Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lazy Weekend

I don't think I'm going to do anything this weekend, and so, I will have no pictures to post... There is a possibility of KTV tonight, but that kind of debauchery doesn't make for good photos in my experience.

I've been reading a lot about south-west China recently, about YunNan and SiChuan provinces in particular. Those provinces are on the eastern side of the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalaya. Reading about the environment and the culture reminds me of the western side, where I spent a couple weeks when I was in India.

These pictures are from the Lahual and Spiti Valleys, a high altitude desert located in eastern Himachel Pradesh, between 5 and 10 kilometers from the Chinese Border and Tibet. Michelle and I went through the area in May 2004 on local buses (one bus a day ran through).

I believe this village was called Nako. We were dropped off at this town in the dark after a long day on the bus. After stumbling about the village in the pitch dark for about half an hour looking for a hotel we finally found one... back at the bus stop.

There was a serious landslide at the road near this town, and the story was that we had to meet the bus on the other side the next day at 2:00 or something. So, the next day we set out to find the landslide and the crossing point. We had a little difficulty finding the place to cross the landslide, and some road workers let us know we needed to be on the road further down the on the mountain. It was going to be a LONG walk. A minute later a huge dumptruck slowed beside us all the guys gestured for us to climb on. So, we got in and took a crazy half hour ride down the side of the mountain with the local yokels. They took us right to the point where the landslide hit, and left us to make the twenty minute trek over the slide.

An hour later or so, a bus arrived on the far side, and all the passengers got out and walked across to join us. Another half and hour later, a bus arrived on our side and everyone got off and made the switch.

Good work Himachel Bus Company.

On this rocky outcrop you can see the Dhankar Monastery, hundreds of meters above the valley floor. The valley is culturally and geographically a part of Tibet, and this Monastery is over 800 years old. We stayed in the Monastery with four or five other backpackers, including one cyclist I remember. A couple of monks were put in charge of taking care of us... they said they hadn't seen so many visitors in a long time. They cooked traditional Tibetan food for us, including some great steamed bread that I learned to twist into shape. Room and board for about 90 rupees (2.50 CDN) a day.

I took this pic on a hike above the Monastery in search of the lake you see in the next picture. On the other side of this mountain to the right lies China. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Well, here's the lake. The black dot in the upper left is actually a boat. Go figure. Seriously. Figure that one out. I couldn't. There is no roads in these parts, and trail leading here was through a narrow Arizona-esque Canyon.

I continued walking around after I took this picture, and in a few minutes spotted a dead horse and a lone vulture. This huge vulture didn't notice me at first, but he was clearly concerned other animals might spoil his feast. Eventually I made my presence known, and, instead of flying away he ran away. He ran fast. He hid behind a rock. Have you ever seen a vulture run? It's funny. I'll show you my imitation sometime. So he just hid behind this rock and periodically peeked over it to see what I was doing. Explain that behaviour. The only reason I can think of is that maybe he didn't want other vultures to discover where he was. That or he ate too much and couldn't fly.

Later, likely suffering from the kind of thinking induced by oxygen deprivation, I decided to go for the summit of the mountain I was on and get a good look at China. This eventually led me to a long skree slope that I climbed, which in turn lead me to a three meter cliff that I had determined to be the only way to continue. I stared at it for about twenty minutes and then wisely decided to abandon my attempt.

Heading down was the sweetest skree skiing I've ever done.

These were some local children who posed for a picture near the Monastery. Take a look the girl on the left carrying her little sister. Is that Grandma? She was probably six years old, and the baby was only half her size. Happy kids.

Finally, this was the group of prayer flags at the top of Kunzam La (Pass) at 4,590 meters. It was, for lack of any words I can come up with, absolutely spectacular. It was, however, not a fun ride up the steep hairpin switchbacks. On almost every hairpin, the driver had to complete a three to ten point turn. He enjoyed using the clutch and gravity to roll backwards toward the abyss (as opposed to using reverse) as he completed every point on these turns. At the right time he would (hopefully) gun the engine and release the clutch to prevent rollling over the edge... all this while wildly spinning the steering wheel in a fluid, brakeless display of driving. This with a thirty year old Indian made TATA bus.

That was a nice trip down memory lane for me, but, that's all I've got for now.

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